June 18th, 2002


Will I ever tire of bashing hippies?

So yesterday I criticized The Feederz. But oh, how I appreciate the directness of their sarcasm and pointed comments compared to hippies. Below if my review for Zine World (http://www.undergroundpress.org/) of "Communities" magazine. It won’t be printed until issue #18, so consider this a sneak preview:

Communities "Journal of Cooperative Living" #113 Anyone considering living "in community" should read this. I mean that literally. If you can stand the passive aggressive, new age, pseudo-therapeutic, bullshit masquerading as "communication" within this zine, than it might work for you. This is the "Communication and Process" issue of this long-running publication aimed at (mostly) intentional rural communities (communes) which also contains a "communities" directory and classifieds. It’s not all bad. The article on one community’s solar power successes is interesting. One article on "True Consensus, False Consensus" could be useful. My frustration with this zine is that I agree with the importance of communication and process (I work and live collectively myself), but this issue mostly presents issues of power and language in a way that would make any sane person run for their lives. Words and phrases like "having a clearing", "checking out a fantasy" (not as titillating as it sounds), "non-violent communication" and "pushing my own buttons" do damage to the language and, in my humble opinion, hide the power of skilled manipulators by creating a new set of rules in the name of clarity and process. Unintentionally funny at times, but mostly useful as a flashing neon sign saying "DANGER! If you’re not a hippie, new-ager, or needy process queen STAY AWAY!" Communities Journal of Cooperative Living Rt. 1, Box 156, Rutledge MO 63563, www.ic.org [$6 US $8 world 82M 1:30] –Gordon

But even though I doubled the amount of words I’m supposed to use on a review, I still have more to say.

At first I thought that these people have a fundamental misunderstanding of language. That’s the only way I could figure that they could write/publish some of the inane shit in this magazine. Obviously different communities vary in their belief in the practices of any given issue of "Communities" But the creepy part is how many write in similar veins of therapeutic doublespeak.

The article "Towards Clarity and Honesty (Part 1)" leads off with this gem of an example:

Bill speaks to his best friend Andy because he feels Andy has been giving him the cold shoulder.
"Andy, can I check out a fantasy with you?"
"Sure, go ahead."
"My fantasy is that you think I’m a bad person because I was late to the meeting this morning. Do you think I’m a bad person?"

Ugh. Isn’t Bill pathetic? In his mind he jumps from being late for one meeting, (he’s described earlier as being the most punctual person in the group) into feeling that people think he’s a worthless human being. Isn’t living in "community" supposed to help your self-esteem? Not only that, but he manipulates the situation away from his fuck up (being late) into passive aggressively making Andy tell him he’s not a "bad person". Andy should say, "I thought we were best friends and now you’re all (whiney voice)’am I a bad person’ cuz I didn’t say hi to you or something. You were late, don’t make this about my feelings. Have some self-respect you needy little shit."

But no, direct communication and a flair for talented insults and clever word choice are frowned upon in the name of "process". There’s even an editorial piece at the beginning of this issue that warns against joking in meetings lest you be misunderstood. "Towards Clarity. . ." is all about using new phrases to prevent misunderstandings. The "Can I share a fantasy?" formulation is meant to acknowledge that an issue might only be going on in the initiator’s head. Fine. But what’s wrong with, "Hey, are you mad at me?"

Language is complex. Duh. You can’t take away misunderstanding, power and hierarchy by playing word games. It’s as if they think that you can take all the potential hurt out of words and process it away. You can "have a clearing" instead of saying what’s on your mind. You can "share fantasies" (yeah, there’s a phrase that’s impervious to misunderstanding and abuse) instead of saying, "what’s up?". But really it’s just creating a language that’s more insular, mysterious to outsiders and isn’t really any more clear.

I actually visited Twin Oaks (one of the communes involved in "Communities") in 1993. It was interesting on many levels, but one of the most striking things was the absolute disinterest on the part of community members about anything going on outside the land they lived on. Everywhere else I went people asked about SF and cities we were visiting. At Twin Oaks it was (I can’t remember the exact language, I’m sure it was more obscure) "Are you going to join Twin Oaks?" They had created a lot of great systems for involving community members in decisions but they actually had to pass out a glossary of terms used at Twin Oaks so we could understand what they were talking about. Again, how does this achieve clarity of process?

Later on in "Communities" I just decided that they hate language. How else can one interpret the following sentences?

"We wanted a ‘co-creative community’ – reflecting the integration of feminine and masculine virtues and whole-centered consciousness . . .This alignment of Self to Self, horizontally and vertically, is what we mean by ‘co-creation’."

Obviously utter nonsense of course. But what’s beyond it? I wish I could believe it was a carefully crafted, neo-Dadaist protest of the impreciseness of the written word. I’d disagree but appreciate the effort. Or maybe a Trojan horse-style word bomb? I know when I read too much of this type of crap I have a harder time thinking clearly. Maybe a KGB-planted time bomb wired before the end of the Soviet Bloc? I can’t think of any other way to explain the disregard to common practices of avoiding redundancy, avoiding random capitalization and having an overall, understandable series of words.

But finally I settled on the idea that these linguistic challenges are simply power grabs and control issues dressed up in "democratic" and new age robes. Check out this passage by a regular columnist:

"My roommates had decided to have a party in the middle of the night. I was not amused. After letting them know exactly what I thought of them, I went to get someone to referee. Imagine my surprise when he pointed out that I was the one making myself upset!"

In most articles in this issue there are references to "Making oneself upset", "Pushing one’s own buttons" and other examples of warmed over ‘70s self-actualization. In the above citation (which at least attempts to be lively, style-wise), the columnist realizes that he/she can’t control other people so they just need to let their anger go. I can’t think of an example better suited to the maintenance of established power.

In fact, the answers to most of the problems posed in these pages are all about looking within for answers. Introspection and self-examination have their place of course, but inward looking thought combined with a paranoid obsession with process and "non-violent communication" always leaves me looking for who’s really in control. Tools for "democracy" can become tools of manipulation rather easily, especially as language is rarefied into more and more esoteric constructions. In these situations, it’s usually the most skilled at word games who can keep deflecting issues away from their own actions and towards their feelings.

"When you got mad at me for partying and waking you up, it made me feel that you don’t appreciate all the work I do to make Commune X a wonderful place. It makes me feel like you think I’m a bad person. Do you think I’m a bad person?"

As for process, read "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" (http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm) and move on. Even if the author is some reform Democrat these days, It’s the best thing ever written about collective process.